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People v. Kevorkian; Hobbins v. Attorney General

The Michigan court of Appeals ruled on one circuit decision on the stateís statute against assisted suicide, and two circuit court rulings on violations of that law by Jack Kevorkian. Two of the lower court cases on People v. Kevorkian dismissed charges against Kevorkian, holding that the law was unconstitutional. All three lower court cases held the law to be unconstitutional, and two of the three circuit court judges held that individuals have a constitutional right to commit suicide. The Court of Appeals agreed that the statute was unconstitutional because of Michiganís constitutional requirement that a statute must have only one objective. The statute in question had two objectives: the first, establishing a commission to make recommendations to the legislature on assisted suicide, and the second criminalizing assisted suicide. The Court of Appeals disagreed with the lower court opinions that there was no constitutional right to commit suicide.

The Supreme Court of Michigan consolidated several cases concerning the criminal responsibility of Jack Kevorkian and a case brought by a terminally ill person and others seeking to have Michiganís criminal statute on assisted suicide declared unconstitutional. The ruling opinion held that the statute was validly enacted, and that the imposition of criminal responsibility by a state on those who assist others in suicide did not violate the U.S. Constitution (see also: Vacco v. Quill and Washington v. Glucksberg). It also held that assisting suicide might be tried as a common law felony, but that a murder charge would require that the death be a direct result of the defendantís action. In the subsumed case in which Kevorkian filed to have the case dismissed because he allegedly assisted in the suicide in question prior to the statute, the circuit court was instructed to reconsider the motion if there was sufficient evidence to try the case on common law felony charges. [Source: People v. Kevorkian; Hobbins v. Attorney General, 527 N.W.2d 714 (Mich. 1994).]

Principles & Concepts: human dignity, respect for persons, beneficence, autonomy, informed consent, right to die.

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